Environmental health hazards are among the top health concerns of parents, yet health care providers often feel inadequately prepared to prevent, recognize, manage, and treat environmentally-related conditions. For many pediatricians, the topic of lead poisoning may have come up during residency; however, most will not have learned about the impact of mold, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) , BPA, climate change, water pollution, air pollution and the myriad of other topics that constitute the field of pediatric environmental health. The AAP began addressing pediatric environmental health issues in 1958 and continues to expand its role in these efforts.
In 1998, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (US EPA Office of Child Health Protection) began to fund a national network of PEHSUs. Today, there is a PEHSU in each of the 10 federal regions in the United States. Pediatricians in Canada, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, using different funding mechanisms, have also created PEHSUs. Together, these all form a North American PEHSU Network of pediatric environmental medicine specialists.
In 2014, the AAP was awarded a cooperative agreement from the CDC/EPA to serve as the National Program Office-East, with responsibility for the establishment and support of PEHSUs in Regions 1-5. The American College of Medical Toxicology was selected to serve as the West office and supports Federal Regions 6-10. Together, the AAP and ACMT form the national program office which supports the PEHSUs.
Each PEHSU provides direct consultations to health care providers, parents, public officials, and others about known or suspected toxic exposures and ways to prevent, reduce, or medically manage exposures and related illnesses. PEHSUs also offer education on the effect of chronic, low-level toxic exposures to substances like lead, mercury, mold, plastics, and pesticides. In addition, PEHSUs give child health guidance during:
- disasters, such as floods, wildfires and oil spills,
- national health news events such as melamine and arsenic in food products, and
- community hearings on issues like building new schools or childcare centers in environmentally safe areas.
Click here to find your regional PEHSU.